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Shift in Management Styles Gathers Momentum


Leadership styles change. What never changes is the need for corporate leaders to motivate teams, make profits and deliver efficiency improvements.

Yet the impact of ‘style’ on the ‘substance’ of corporate performance has only recently focused the attention of companies, consultants and researchers.

Styles come and go. Today, the focus increasingly falls on balanced leaders without glaring faults.

Years ago, the command-and-control management style was frequently encountered in South Africa. Some technically competent managers focused on results so intently they became tyrannical. They felt nothing for team sensitivities.

In time, Mr Feel Nothing was superseded by Mr Feel Good.

Change was driven by the collapse of hierarchy and wider realisation that skilled teams often performed better under empathetic managers.

Making teams feel good became a priority for managers with people skills.

Today, however, we see the emergence of Mr Feedback – the self-aware manager who seeks to control weaknesses by harnessing feedback on blind spots.

Objective feedback from colleagues may dry up near the very top. The leader then accesses professional feedback by hiring an executive coach or committing to a 360 review of strengths and weaknesses.

The aim is not to nurture one overriding attribute like empathy or assertiveness as over-reliance on one area fails to address blind spots that could affect the bottom line.

The search for balance is driven by recognition that some managers can be severely self-delusional. Delusions contributing to self-confidence and total commitment can be beneficial. But executives who fail to see their own weaknesses might harm company performance and hurt their own careers.

Research underlines these concerns and illuminates the focus on greater self-awareness.

US analysts at Korn Ferry, the world's largest executive search firm, scrutinised nearly 7000 self-assessments by professionals at 486 listed firms and identified discrepancies between reality and overly positive appraisals.

The “mirage of self-perception” is a common phenomenon. We think we’re better than we are.

Surveys in North America, Europe and Asia show that 80% of people regard themselves as better than average drivers while research in South America, Asia and Europe indicates that most people think they’re more energy efficient than their neighbours.

Therefore, it was no surprise when Korn Ferry found many respondents over-rated themselves. The mismatch between assessment and reality was termed a blind spot’.

Analysts then discovered that employees at poorly performing companies had 20% more blind spots than employees at financially strong companies.

What’s more, staff at poorly performing companies were 79% more likely to exhibit low self-awareness than those at firms with robust returns on revenue.

Korn Ferry researchers spent 30 months tracking the stock performance of firms in the study. Those with more self-aware employees consistently outperformed those with low self-awareness.

Blind spots can clearly influence company performance and shareholder value, which explains the managerial quest for greater self-awareness and better feedback on management style and personal attributes.

Business schools in the US – and South Africa – provide some confirmation of the trend as MBA courses increasingly include mindfulness and self-awareness modules.

The one-dimensional manager is under threat – whether ultra-assertive or over-empathetic. The favoured managerial type is well rounded, well balanced and well able to absorb objective feedback.

By Michelle Moss.


Gathers Momentum

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